On Monday, June 17 the School District 91 Board of Education reached a final decision regarding the reconfiguration of Vanderhoof schools.
Effective in June 2014, Prariedale elementary school will be closed. This comes after many schools in the district have been operating under capacity. According to the district website, enrollment has been declining in elementary schools for the last five to 10 years and secondary school enrollment will continue to decline for the next five to seven years.
“I think the decision was a difficult one but a good one and it moves the school district in the right direction,” said Stephen Davis, Chair of School District 91 Board of Trustees. “Having the high school more full will allow us to have lots of other programs which might not run if the high school was getting empty.”
“Certainly population trends and declining enrollment in schools is something that we’ve been aware of for some time,” said Eugene Marks, director of instruction. “so you can look and say somewhere down the road we’re gonna have to address this issue and we’ve taken our time to make sure that information was accurate.”
With Prairiedale closing, other elementary schools in the district will only offer grades K-6, NVSS will become a grade seven to 12 school. The board was excited to see what educational opportunities the new structure will provide. One board trustee stated that this configuration is common in the United States and that it may be beneficial to students who could be thinking about quitting after grade nine.
Davis explained in an interview that the plan will allow students more choice at the high school level for both younger and older students. Teachers in areas such as shop, art or drama will continue teaching their specific programs since they will have more kids interested in taking those classes. It also allows students in grade seven to have more options for their classes.
This plan will not increase class sizes but what it will do is allow more classes to remain open and available to students.
“One of the things we’re finding in education is that students are moving towards having a chance to get into trades earlier,” said Davis. “So if you’re a grade seven student and find out you like shop classes and like hands-on stuff then being able to move into that at an earlier age could be a big benefit.”
Davis also said that since there would be more funds directed at the bigger school, there might be an even greater level of care for the students. This is due to the possibility that there could be even more staff on hand than before.
Charlene Seguin, superintendent of schools, understands how parents feel and how difficult these changes are.
“Change is very difficult and people become attached, they love their schools and we like that, we really like that,” said Seguin. “So it’s a very difficult thing for them to accept that a school they love is not going to be there anymore… but the district is forced to respond to declining enrollments and to aging buildings.”
When planning for the future, the board has to look at what schools should be upgraded and which do not need structural replacements due to age and condition.
Prairiedale has been overlooked for many optional capital upgrades because of the changes needed elsewhere.
From SD91’s website: “Two of the criterion they [the provincial government] look at is the capacity usage data of our schools and where students live in relation to those schools. They do not consider each school individually but rather look at the overall capacity in a given community. Vanderhoof does have some aging schools and the enrollment has declined at both the elementary and secondary levels.”
What this means is that with Prairiedale’s closure more money can be put into the other schools in Vanderhoof. Stephen Davis said that W.L. McLeod is one such “aging” school in need of funds.
“Most of our buildings are getting older,” said Davis. “Our newest building is Evelyn Dickson but the other buildings are all past their prime years definitely and have been slated on ministry lists, especially with McLeod, to get it upgraded.”
Eventually, the EBUS Academy will moved to a new location as well. One board trustee mentioned the possibility of moving EBUS to W.L. McLeod but that discussion has been tabled until phase two of the school reconfiguration plan.
Also tabled until phase two is Sinkut View elementary. The school will remain open for now, but it will begin operating as a K – 6 school. If the decreases in enrollment of elementary students continues for the next couple years then Sinkut View might be the next school closed. While there are lots of logging and mining opportunities opening up in the region, according the SD91 website this has not proven to be a factor in increasing enrollment of school age children.
“We wanted to give ourselves some breathing room and a chance for conditions to change a little bit. If we closed both schools at this time then it would appear that things would be quite tight within the two schools in town.”
Some parents may be asking themselves why they couldn’t vote on the reconfiguration process considering it neglect of democracy. But all trustees of the school board are elected by the community and so their votes are the ones that count.
Anyone with an opinion, parent, teacher or otherwise, is encouraged to submit a letter to the editor at the Omineca Express. Letters may be submitted through email firstname.lastname@example.org; by fax 250-567-2070; or in person.